By Emily Sides
About 125 Rochelle Middle School students participated in a poetry presentation ceremony Friday with visiting poet and teaching artist Glenis Redmond.
Redmond worked with the students for two weeks earlier in the school year and returned for the publication of the poetry anthology and celebration of the student’s work. Each participating student also received a copy of the their poetry book ‘Bad and Beautiful: An Anthology of Poems by Rochelle Middle School.’
At the ceremony, two students from each grade read their poems aloud on stage, including seventh grade Mahoganee Williams who read her poem “Life is Bad for Us is All I Hear.”
“I do remember the time you became a poet,” Redmond said to the audience and specifically Williams. “Because I was right there when you became a poet.”
Doriana Hill, who is also in seventh grade, read her poem ‘Sometimes I Can’t Understand Motherly Love/I Am From.’
“I am from the place that will turn off your lights even if you have two kids,” Hill read, speaking about gangs, hearing gunshots and sexual assault in her poem.
Sixth grader De’Andre Hargrove read his poem “How My Mom Was My Dad” where he addressed an absent father and said his mother taught him how to be a man. Sixth grader Sa’Quan Jones read his poem “Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Eighth grader Nikaya Newborn read her poem “The Place I Am From” and eighth grader Ty’Jane Torres read “I Am From A World Of Where Everything Is Not Perfect.”
Teachers Rebecca Zarrow, Rhondra Fleming and Tracie Dixon introduced students and praised the program.
After the student’s read their poems, Redmond told the students she is their poetry teacher for life. Redmond said she’s passionate about teaching middle school students because that’s when she started writing poetry.
Redmond read a poem that she said was to her poetry teacher. “Those 15 minutes of free write became a safe space,” she said, adding that it gave her comfort away from her alcoholic father.
“My imagination peeked from dark clouds. You couldn’t have known,” Redmond said about her homelife. “You were handing me a tool to save and make my life.”
Redmond said throughout the program she and the students talked about emotions both happy and sad.
“I want to tell you young people, you are never alone,” Redmond said. “You have a mighty force behind you.”
Redmond read a poem where her grandmother, who told her to love everybody.
“The revolution is in staying alive,” Redmond said. “109 years you live in the South, imagine lasting 109 years and have no monuments resurrected in her name.”
Redmond spoke extensively about the late Maya Angelou, who died in 2014 in Winston-Salem after teaching for years at Wake Forest University.
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Redmond said April 4 would’ve been the birthday of poet Maya Angelou, which is at the beginning of National Poetry Month. Angelou’s work “saved my life,” Redmond said.
Redmond said her poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Women” and Angelou’s book “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” which is about racism and surviving being raped as a child.
Redmond said after horrible things happened to Angelou, she didn’t speak for six years. “Her first words were poetry,” she said. “When I was younger, I had horrible things happen to me. I thought if Maya can do it, I can.”
Redmond said she read Angelou’s works “like road maps.”
“The caged bird sings because she was born bound,” Redmond read from her Angelou response poem ‘The Caged Bird Sings Because.”
“Singing is better than weeping,” she read, referencing experiments from the 1950s that studied the effects of racism in children attending segregated schools.
“White child picks white doll,” Redmond said. “Black child picks white doll still.”
Then Redmond read a poem comprised of the student’s work called ‘Bad and Beautiful.’
“I’m like MLK, I speak my dreams,” Redmond said. “Beautiful and bad at the same time. We’re bold, beautiful.”
Rochelle Middle School is part of the A+ Schools Program of the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.
This was the second year of the poetry program, which returned thanks to a grant through the Community Council for the Arts and support from the SmART Kinston City Project Foundation.